In today’s post, I would like to address what I consider the simplest and most effective form of political participation apart from voting: veganism. In order to do so, I will talk about conventional and unconventional participation to give you a survey of the topic. Afterwards, I will talk about veganism and explain why I think that it is the easiest way to make a difference.
The ethical arguments for veganism are obvious and Antagonist AD portray them quite viscerally. Therefore, I will mainly consider the potential that lies in veganism. It may be a mere dietary choice but also a mindset that can make a major difference, which I will illustrate today. Enjoy.
What is Political Participation?
According to van Deth, who references Campbell, ‘by the early 1960s political participation was broadly understood as voting and other citizen activities in the context of statutory political institutions’ (Van Deth). Voting is one of the official or conventional forms of participation, in which you interact with the government (The University of Tennessee).
Civil rights movements led to a greater participation and it became clear that political participation does not only revolve around officially acknowledged forms of participation (Van Deth).
Unconventional Political Participation
Van Deth summarises the development of unconventional political participation the following way:
‘These newer forms of participation also included many protest actions organized by upcoming “New Social Movements” initiated by pacifist, ecological, squatters’ and women’s groups. Because these activities were not in line with social norms of the early 1970s they were labelled unconventional modes of participation, but also terms such as elite-challenging modes of participation (Inglehart, 1990), contentious politics (Tilly & Tarrow, 2006), or simply protest are widely used to underline the fact that these activities present specific claims and usually reject existing social and political arrangements’ (Van Deth). Accordingly, apart from conventional participation, which are the established forms of political engagement, there can be unofficial forms that are not necessarily based on or in line with the law or the constitution.
A few examples of unconventional political participation can be found in Barnes et al.’s ‘Political Action Study’ from 1979:
‘Writing paroles on walls, participating in petitions, boycotts and legal political demonstrations, refusal of paying rents, rates or taxes, participation in strikes, occupying factories or institutional buildings, stopping the traffic with demonstrations as well as damaging others’s property and use of violence’ (Hadjar et al. 413). All of which are not alternatives to conventional participation but rather additions that can be used to impact politicians or the outcome of their decisions (Hadjar et al. 413).
Who cares about Theory… ?!
As you can see, there are various forms of political engagement apart from voting. In theory, everyone can participate, so why shouldn’t we use these possibilities?
Because of the internet and modern media in general, taking part in protests and contributing to a positive change becomes easier than ever. You do not have to write letters in order to contact politicians but can use pages such as change.org to gather signatures online to put pressure on them and have an impact everywhere on the world.
As a result, it is easier than ever to become active and you do not even have to leave the house. Despite the pandemic, it is possible to make a contribution, as the current situation in the US illustrates. For instance, even if you do not live there, which applies to me, you can sign petitions or donate money in order to set an example and show solidarity. Many people share the following list of petitions and organisations that might need donations, which can serve as a small overview.
…And how does that apply to Veganism?
Veganism is a form of unconventional participation, in which you boycott animal-based products, i.e. meat, milk and everything based on that, eggs and honey. This diet has an advantage that several other forms of participations do not have: it concerns a basic need that you pursue every single day and it is theoretically available to everyone.
I know that veganism can be unavailable for people who are not able-bodied and live in a nursing home or who have no say in their diet because of their nurses. Of course, you cannot expect people in developing countries to go vegan because it is much more difficult for them to do so. However, this does not change the fact that veganism is available to the majority of people in industrialised countries. We are privileged and in a position, in which we can afford to live a vegan lifestyle. Therefore, in the following chapters, you will see the some of the profits of and reasons for a vegan diet highlighting how you can make a difference just through your consumption.
Why should I bother to Go Vegan?
There are several arguments in favour of veganism, which I will discuss in the following chapters. Afterwards, I will come back to politcal participation and explain why I think that veganism is the simplest form of participation. This is not a list of pro and contra, I mainly talk about the efficiency of veganism.
1.Easy Integration into Every Day Life
The disadvantages of other forms of participation do not apply to veganism. Let’s say you want to attend a demonstration. Due to Corona, this is only possible to a limited degree and in consideration of some restrictions, such as keeping a certain distance. Additionally, depending on the demo, its participants and the government, demonstrations can escalate or bring legal consequences with them. As you can see in the US, you can easily get hurt, especially if you are protesting during a crisis or in an authoritarian state. Despite that, you need to have the time to attend a demonstration and to get there in the first place. This costs time and ressources.
It does not take much time to sign a petition but it is a one-off thing and by signing it, you do not work towards a goal continuously. Yes, you create pressure and raise awareness about an issue and the need to react to that issue but you do not participate directly.
These disadvantages do not apply to veganism because it is a lifestyle that you can easily integrate into your everyday life. Every person can live on a vegan diet and by doing so, you automatically integrate a form of participation, namely boycott, into your daily routine. Thus, you can set an example every day. At the beginning, you have to get used to the new diet but once you are used to it, there is not more effort to it than to an omnivorous diet.
2.Changing an Industry
Everyday, vegans set an example against the cruelty in the animal-based food industry. You boycott that entire industry and do not support it. Thus, it makes less money and you promote a change. This is coming to fruition as the following examples show:
Since more people pursue a vegan diet, more companies realise that plant-based products are a viable source of income: ‘In recent months, major food companies like Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, Hormel and Nestlé have rolled out their own meat alternatives, filling supermarket shelves with plant-based burgers, meatballs and chicken nuggets’ (Yaffe-Bellany). Additionally, fast-food chains like Burger King have already added vegan products to their menu (Yaffe-Bellany). All of this would have been unthinkable a few years ago but nowadays, vegan food is established in the business.
On top of all of that, the biggest milk producer of the US filed for bankruptcy last year, marking a milestone for veganism: ‘America’s largest milk producer, is filing for bankruptcy. The 94-year-old company has struggled in recent years because Americans are drinking less cows milk’ (Valinsky: 2019). Not only are there more and more alternatives to animal-based products showcasing an increasing interest in the topic but additionally, this proves that veganism does have an impact, one that is great enough to lead to the bankruptcy of one of the greatest milk producers.
As you can see, it definitely makes sense to go vegan because it makes a difference. Brands draw consequences from it and adapt to the demand for plant-based goods. Some even replace dairy and co. with vegan ones. Accordingly, the logic of being unable to change anything as a single person does not apply here. Obviously, veganism promotes a change, which is already coming to fruition, since it impacts the food market.
“Brazil’s president accuses actor DiCaprio of financing Amazon fires, offers no evidence”
-Unfortunately, this is not a meme but a real headline from 2019. In actuality, Bolsonaro and is most likely involved in the burning of rain forests. Time to spit some facts.
3.Facts: Deforestation for Livestock
According to a Brazilian Newspaper, Bolsonaro openly condoned the burning of rainforests: ‘He said that both deforestation and fires are cultural practices in the country. The president was asked if he would take any measures to reduce deforestation. “You won’t end deforestation or burning. It’s cultural,” he said’ (Freelon). Here, Bolsonaro justifies and speaks in favour of deforestation, claiming it was cultural, which strongly contrasts his claim of environmentalists setting it on fire. Obiously, he wanted to frame someone else for this when in actuality, he was responsible for the fires himself.
According to another article cited by the German Newspaper Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, since Bolsonaro’s inauguration, deforestation has increased by 83 % in comparison to the preceding year (Süddeutsche Zeitung 2019). This again suggests that Bolsonaro contributes to the deforestation, since he condones and has an undeniable impact on it. But which is the extent of deforestation globally?
According to an estimation from 2011, 30000 square kilometres of forest were destroyed annually (Liebreich, 2011). Liebreich also remarks that most of the feed that is used for factory farming in Germany was produced in South America. Soy, which is one of the most important types of feed, makes up more than 75% of feed used in Germany according to WFF who Liebreich cites (Liebreich, 2011). The following estimates hint at the same aspect: for meat that was later exported to Germany, around 2,5 square kilometres of conservation areas were turned into pasture land per year, which is comparable to 350 soccer fields and based on that, Germany is responsible for seven to eight percent of Deforestations because of imports (Dowedeit). That only covers deforestation in South America for soy exported to Germany. On a global scale, there is obviously much more pasture land and deforestation.
It is an established fact that the feed for animals in factory farming plays a major role in deforestation of rain forests. Not only if you eat meat, but also when you buy dairy products, you support this process and contribute to climate change, since the deforestation and factory farming emit greenhouse gases.
The fewer trees, the less GHGs can be transformed into oxygen by them, so this perpetuates climate change. Apart from that, this contributes to mass extinctions, as the diversity of species is the most dense in jungles. By boycotting animal-based products, you set an example against all of these things and do not contribute to them. Accordingly, adapting your consumption can have major consequences.
4.Combatting Climate Change Every Day
As stated earlier, veganism can be a means to combat climate change. According to LEAD and FAO, which are organisations of the EU und the UN, ‘At virtually each step of the livestock production process substances contributing to climate change or air pollution, are emitted into the atmosphere, or their sequestration in other reservoirs is hampered. Such changes are either the direct effect of livestock rearing, or indirect contributions from other steps on the long road that ends with the marketed animal product’ (LEAD, 79). The animal-based food industry emits noticeable amounts of GHGs, such as CO2, methane and N20 (LEAD, 82). The fertilisers used to grow feed for the animals also contribute to this (LEAD, 86).
In order to illustrate the impact of livestock industry on gas emissions, here are a few numbers from the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and from a professor at the University of Oxford:
- 14,5 % of anthropogenic GHG-emissions stem from this industry (FAO 2006)
- beef is responsible for 41 % of these emissions and milk for 20 % (FAO 2006)
- according to University of Oxford, vegans save 2 tonnes of emissions per year (Nezik 2019) and that a transition to more plant-based diets “could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion (US)” (Springman 2016).
- “global dietary guidelines could avoid 5.1 million deaths per year by 2050. Even greater benefits could come from vegetarian diets (avoiding 7.3 million deaths) and vegan diets (avoiding 8.1 million deaths)” (Springman 2016).
- ‘[…] if global warming is to be limited to less than 2°C […] Adopting global dietary guidelines would cut food-related emissions by 29%, vegetarian diets by 63%, and vegan diets by 70%’ (Springman 2016).
As you can deduce from the data above, more than a tenth of GHG-emissions comes from factory farming. By transitioning to a vegan diet, you can set an example against this and promote a change, as there will be less emissions if less people eat animal-based products and thus force the industry to produce less of them. The amount of gas emissions saved by vegans is evident and proves the effectiveness of that diet and up to 70 % of food-related emissions could be cut if enough people pursued a vegan diet, again illustrating its effect and profits in terms of sustainability. If you consider all of this, why wouldn’t you try it?
The following are numbers provided by the Water Footprint Network illustrating the amount of water that is required to produce one kg of several kinds of food.
Vegetables require 322 litres of water per kilogram, while fruits need 962 litres per kilogram. If we consider the amount of water that is required for the production of one kg of meat, the inefficiency of the animal-based food industry becomes quite clear. One kg of milk requires 1020 litres of water, eggs 3265 litres, chicken meat 4325 litres, pork 5988 litres, sheep about 8800 litres and beef 15415 litres of water per kg (Olsen-Sawyer).
‘Globally, there is a projected “food animal” population of over 20 billion, more than twice that of the current seven billion humans the planet carries, with the animal count expected to rise along with human population growth’ (Olsen-Sawyer). All of which require resources and if we take that in consideration, it becomes clear just how much resources have to be used up by this industry, since it annually produces several hundred millions of tons of meat, which in turn require much more resources in form of feed and water.
6.The Amount of Land required for Animal Products and Loss of Proteins
‘[An] animal’s efficiency to turn its food into body mass [is] known as feed conversion ratios (FCR)(i.e., identical units of feed to meat, so feed: meat)’ (Olsen-Sawyer). Olsen explains ‘The range of FCRs is based on the type of animal, and according to Dr. Robert Lawrence of Johns Hopkins University, the ratios are approximately 7:1 for beef, 5:1 for pork and 2.5:1 for poultry’ (Olsen-Sawyer). This means that cows require seven times as much feed as the bodymass and beef that they produce, while pigs require five times as much and so on. Accordingly, in addition to the space that is required to raise and keep the animals, you need space for much more plants to feed them.
In order to visualise this, here is some additional data that applies to the US: According to Gray et al., ‘though plant-based agriculture utilizes 69% of the total land mass used for animal-based agriculture in the U.S., plant-based agriculture generates 512% more pounds of product than animal-based agriculture. On a per acre basis, plant-based agriculture produces 14,000 more pounds than animal-based agriculture.’ (Gray et al. 2020). Plant-based agriculture is much more efficient than animal-based agriculture and the latter uses resources that could be used to produce food for humans instead of feed for livestock. If we replaced the feeds with plant-based food for humans, we could feed much more people than as of now and it would require much less resources.
Why should You consider going Vegan?
- unlike demonstrations, veganism is available every single day and it provides a basis for daily participation and activism
- veganism can be integrated into your everyday life quite easily. Eating is a basic need and on a vegan diet, you promote a change while satisfying this basic need. -there is nothing easier than that
- it is scientifically proven that veganism is the more viable alternative to an omnivorous diet and even in mainstream media, this is continuously emphasised, e.g. when it comes to butter and its impact on the environment or waste of food
- Climate Change is real and already now, it affects us, as seasons shift and the temperatures rise, just look at Australia. This concerns every single one of us and it is going to affect us all in the future. Veganism is a way to not contribute to the worsening of this
- animal products of any form are a product of cruelty. If you do condemn the conditions in factory farming, act according to your standards and go vegan. Otherwise you contribute to this and perpetuate the suffering
- another moral aspect: because of the consumption of animal-based products, the entire lives of these animals turn into a living hell just so your hunger is satisfied for a few hours. – So when eating, maybe ask yourself if it is really worth it.
By changing a simple aspect in their everyday life, everyone can set an example against the inefficiency and impact of factory farming on our planet. If you consider the information and the fact that nowadays it is easier than ever to go vegan, the only question is ‘Why shouldn’t I do this or at least try it?’.
Unlike demonstrations, veganism provides a platform for daily participation and disadvantages of other forms of participation do not apply to it. Veganism is a perfect basis for participation because it concerns a basic need. Accordingly, in form of veganism, you can integrate a form of continuous participation into your every day life and if you want to do more, you can add other forms of participation or activism, such as attending demonstrations. It is just a great basis that can be accompanied by other forms of participation.
If it is so easy, then why shoudn’t we use this chance, especially if we know the consequences of animal-based products?
In this post, I focused on the efficiency of veganism and I did not address the moral aspects in too much detail. If you want to know more about that, there are sources online, which you can use to learn more about this topic. If you have concerns about health, check out the following page. https://www.eatrightpro.org/-/media/eatrightpro-files/practice/position-and-practice-papers/position-papers/vegetarian-diet.pdf
It stems from a neutral source, i.e. nutritionists and it illustrates that you can live on a vegan diet at any point of your life.
As always, thanks for reading and until next time.
Next on sovlpvnk: Listen-In #2: Feminism in a Nutshell: Sharptooth’s Single Status
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. ‘Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets.’ In: eatrightpro.org, URL: https://www.eatrightpro.org/-/media/eatrightpro-files/practice/position-and-practice-papers/position-papers/vegetarian-diet.pdf, Accessed on June 3, 2020.
Earth Overshoot Day. ‘Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.’ In: overshootday.org, URL: https://www.overshootday.org/, Accessed on Jun 11, 2020.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ‘Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM).’ Fao.org, URL: http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/#c303616, Accessed on June 5, 2020.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ‘Key facts and findings.’ Fao.org, URL: http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/, Accessed on June 5, 2020.
Freelon, Kiratiana, ‘Bolsonaro Says Deforestation Will Never End in Brazil.’ In: folha.uol, 21 November 2019, URL: https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/internacional/en/scienceandhealth/2019/11/bolsonaro-says-deforestation-will-never-end-in-brazil.shtml, Accessed on June 5, 2020.
Gray, Amanda et al.. ‘Animal-based agriculture Vs. Plant-based agriculture. A multi-product data comparison.’ In: ResearchGate, March 2017, URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338431574_Animal-based_agriculture_Vs_Plant-based_agriculture_A_multi-product_data_comparison, Accessed on June 9, 2020.
LEAD Livestock Environment and Development Initative. ‘Livestock’s long shadow. Environmental issues and options.’ In: virtualcentre.org, URL: http://www.fao.org/3/a-a0701e.pdf, Accessed on June 3, 2020.
Olsen-Sawyer, Kai. ‘Meat’s large water footprint. why raising livestock and poultry for meat is so resource-intensive.’ In. foodtank, URL: https://foodtank.com/news/2013/12/why-meat-eats-resources/, Accessed on June 9, 2020.
Springman, Marco. ‘Plant-based diets could save millions of lives and dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.’ In: Oxford Martin School, 21 March 2016, URL: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/news/201603-plant-based-diets/, Accessed on June 9, 2020.
Valinsky, Jordan. ‘America’s largest milk producer files for bankruptcy.’ In: CNN.com, URL: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/12/business/dean-foods-bankruptcy/index.html, Accessed on June 3, 2020.
Water Footprint Network. ‘Water footprint of crop and animal products. a comparison.’ In: water footprint network, URL: https://waterfootprint.org/en/water-footprint/product-water-footprint/water-footprint-crop-and-animal-products/, Accessed on June 9, 2020.
Yaffe-Bellany, David. ‘The New Makers of Plant-Based Meat? Big Meat Companies.’ In: nytimes.com, 14 October 2019, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/14/business/the-new-makers-of-plant-based-meat-big-meat-companies.html, Accessed on June 8, 2020.
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